The Time: 1:00 PM ET
The last Devils game
The Devils defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in Buffalo on Wednesday to snap their six-game losing streak. Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt led the way for the Devils with a goal and two assists each, as Chris pointed out in his recap.
The last Oilers game
Edmonton was also in action on Wednesday, falling 4-2 in St. Louis. Veteran goaltender Mike Smith struggled, stopping 29 of 33 shots, and Edmonton didn’t get much aside from their two superstars who I’ll talk about a lot in this preview, Connor McDavid (1 A) and Leon Draisaitl (1 G).
It should also be noted that like the Devils, the Oilers haven’t played all that much in the last couple weeks. Edmonton had 4 games PPD due to the NHL’s recent wave of postponements for games involving Canadian-based teams.
The last Devils-Oilers game(s)
This is the first meeting between the two teams since November 8th, 2019, as Mikko Koskinen stopped all 29 shots he saw in a 4-0 shutout win over the Devils. Leon Draisaitl was among the Oilers goal scorers that night.
These teams last met in Newark on October 10th, 2019. Edmonton won that game as well, this time in a shootout by a score of 4-3. Connor McDavid scored a PPG with 1:06 remaining in regulation to force overtime, and Leon Draisaitl, who chipped in a first period goal earlier in the contest, scored the decisive goal in the shootout as well.
What will the lines look like?
The Devils lines were as follows on Wednesday (credit to Amanda Stein)
Zacha - Hischier - Boqvist
Sharangovich - Hughes - Bratt
Johnsson - Mercer - Kuokkanen
Studenic - McLeod - Bastian
Graves - Hamilton
Siegenthaler - Severson
Smith - Subban
Blackwood (with Akira Schmid backing up)
The Devils top six played well for the most part against the Sabres, but these aren’t the Sabres. McDavid (17G, 33A) and Draisaitl (24G, 26A) are the last two Hart Trophy winners and are two of the top five players in the world. Lindy Ruff and his coaching staff will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down. Fortunately for Ruff, he will have the benefit of last change, so expect to see a lot of Hischier and Michael McLeod matched up against them, whether they’re up to the task or not.
As for the Oilers, they ran with these lines in their last outing (via Left Wing Lock)
Foegele - McDavid - Hyman
Nugent-Hopkins - Draisaitl - Yamamoto
Shore - Ryan - Sceviour
Perlini - McLeod - Turris
Keith - Ceci
Koekkoek - Barrie
Samorukov - Bouchard
Edmonton got some reinforcements after their Christmas break with Mike Smith being activated off of LTIR, as well as Duncan Keith and Zach Hyman returning to the lineup. They will likely get a few more reinforcements as Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, and William Lagesson were cleared from COVID protocols, so expect them to draw in this afternoon as well.
What do the Devils need to do to have a chance?
It goes without saying, but they have to tighten up defensively against the Oilers explosive Top Six or they’ll have no chance in this game.
It starts in net with Mackenzie Blackwood, who has posted an .875 save percentage in his last 9 games. That’s simply not gonna cut it, and while he’s probably not 100 percent, lingering injuries can’t be used as an excuse. Blackwood has allowed too many softies and given up too many juicy rebounds that have ultimately wound up in the back of the net. He has not played well, yet, he’s the best option the Devils have. The Devils, quite frankly, need more from all of their goaltenders, and it starts with #29.
I didn’t see much from the Buffalo game that would suggest to me that the Devils won’t continue to do things defensively that are detrimental to their cause. Leaving the middle of the ice open, over-committing, being caught out of position. That’s a recipe for disaster against a top-heavy team like Edmonton.
Frankly, I have little confidence in the Devils being the team that figures out how to stop McDavid and Draisaitl. New Jersey will have to feast on the bottom of Edmonton’s roster, which isn’t very good. Duncan Keith, who was washed up two years ago, played a hair under 27 minutes Wednesday! Take advantage of that, like the Blues did.
Lastly, Edmonton has the #1 PP in the league at 31.5%, which shouldn’t be a surprise given.....you know. It is imperative the Devils stay out of the box and not make careless mistakes. Some penalties like holding can be unavoidable at times and could even be good things as they’re the only thing that prevents the opposing player from scoring a goal, but the Devils can not afford dumb mistakes like too many men, puck over the glass, interference, and many of the other types of penalties. The Devils penalty kill has been better this season, currently sitting 15th in the league at 80.6%, but you’re just asking for trouble if you give Edmonton easy power plays.
What do you think about this afternoon’s matchup? Can the Devils build off of the Buffalo win or will they get clowned by two of the best players in the world, as well as the rest of the Oilers? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!